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Memory itself is a powerful thing, more powerful as it were, than memories. We are shaped by all that has come before, even--maybe especially--by those things we’ve managed to forget along the way. More and more I’ve come to the realization that although we may not be able to access or remember something, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
I’m getting to an age where there are plenty of things I just don’t recall. Yet, some of those people or events still influence me on a daily basis, and profoundly color how I see and experience things.
What is here and now doesn’t just fall from the sky. We are brought to this moment by all that has already transpired. History, culture, language, personality, education and life experience have all contributed to us, as individuals, communities, even nations. All that has been is mystically present in the depths of who and where we are.
Remembering is more than just sentimentality or nostalgia. It is more too, than simply an exercise in historical recall. For when we recall, we are recalled to who we really are. That is, we reconnect or re-member the fragments of our lives into a whole that leaves nothing behind. I am convinced, by the way, that God does not waste a thing. All we have encountered, both bitter and sweet, works His holiness in us. All that has contributed to who we are exists for the purpose of bringing us close to the heart of Christ. Every morsel locked into memory, whether we are conscious of it or not, is a window into eternity, and a lens through which God looks at each one of us with love. When we open our eyes to the possibilities memory holds for us, we can look through that same lens into the face of God.
Metaphysics may be interesting to some and mumbo-jumbo to others. But I think that once in a while it does us good to focus not just on what we remember, but on remembering itself. When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” He wasn’t instructing His disciples merely to look back to the Last Supper, but to look around where they were, to see His abiding presence among and within them. When St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed, “Take, Lord, receive all my memory,” he wasn’t asking the Lord to give his mind a blank slate, but to tangibly live in all that he carried with him.
Memory, after all, is about presence. It is a means of keeping things before us, of perpetuating something or someone beyond the moment we might be tempted to say to which that something or someone belonged. Memory stretches time towards eternity. By doing so, it calls us to view life beyond what looks like the horizons of past and future between which we live. The sun only looks as if it is setting or rising. In truth, it always burns with the intensity and clarity of noonday.
When we celebrate Masses of Remembrance, we do so believing that all liturgy and all sacraments make us truly present to what and whom we remember. When we recall the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are empowered to become witnesses to salvation--and not just historians of it. That is because Jesus is mystically present as Eucharist. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Word once again becomes flesh; the Bread of Life becomes His body given up for us; and we are blessed to stand in the awe of His presence.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.